NCG’s Golf Glossary: What are the yips?

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I can barely write this word, never mind put together another 400 of them about it. Nothing, apart from the dreaded ‘el hosel’, terrifies golfers more.

It strikes indiscriminately. It has no boundaries. Many of the world’s best golfers have felt its wrath. Some have never recovered.

It is of course…

Word of the week: Yips

It was a monthly medal and, standing on the 16th tee, I was five under my handicap.

This was it. I was finally going to grab a big one. I striped a driver down the fairway and then hit a 7-iron right into the heart of the green.

From 20 feet away, I cosied it up to about two-and-a-half feet and couldn’t resist a little smirk. Another hole safely negotiated.


I got behind the ball to perform the simple task of popping it into the hole and something strange happened. I felt a sudden tension in my arms.

As I drew the putter head back for this relative tap-in, my hand jerked violently. Step away, compose yourself, make the putt.

Call it what you like – a jitter, a stagger, a twitch – the stroke was a sorry one and never looked like making the hole.

I had suffered a case of the yips. Now one of the only good things about being a bang average golfer, and a worse putter, is that I’m hardly ever in contention to see this happen again.

But, for some, it’s a career wrecker.

Dictionary definition: Extreme nervousness causing a golfer to miss easy putts

What this means: It’s considered to be a ‘loss of fine motor skills’ and often strikes experienced athletes – with bundles of experience and battle scars to match.

The exact cause is hard to put a finger on but that brilliant resource, otherwise known as the internet, suggests it may result from ‘biochemical changes in the brain that accompany ageing’.

Focal dsytonia, a neurological condition that affects a group of muscles in a specific part of the body, has also been suggested as another possibility.

While it’s primarily associated with golf, and specifically putting, it also shows its face in a number of other sports – cricket, baseball, darts or any that require precise hand to eye co-ordination.

The casualty list is extensive.

A quick flick through Bernhard Langer’s career on Youtube will see how many different putting strokes the German has endured down the years as he battles to beat this sickness. His trophy cabinet is a mark of his defiance.

Ben Hogan, Padraig Harrington, Sam Snead – all have suffered similar torment.

PACIFIC PALISADES, CA - FEBRUARY 19: Padraig Harrington of Ireland lines up a putt on the seventh hole during round two of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club on February 19, 2016 in Pacific Palisades, California. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Even Tiger Woods has not been immune.

The 14-time Major winner was judged to have the chipping yips after sculling and blading a procession of short shorts in Phoenix last year.

Origins: Tricky one, this. Tommy Armour is thought to have brought the term into the general lexicon.

The legendary teacher was once a stellar champion until the yips forced him to abandon tournament golf.

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